Tag Archives: safari

Traveling In the Year of The Horse.

horseback-safaris

Safari anyone?

On January 31, in galloped the Year of the Horse on the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

A 12-month cycle, the calendar is based on archetypes of 12 animals and 5 elements. 2014’s theme is actually the Yang Wood Horse. Yang represents activity, and the year is considered to be one of high energy, production, movement, and a perfect time to travel.

On that note, I figured why not focus on destinations where horses figure predominately in one way or another.

Whether you like sitting in a saddle or just gazing at these noble creatures, there’s something about being near horses that quiets us. If you’re a horse person, then you probably have an unbridled passion for these animals and know what I’m talking about. There’s something about looking at the world from between a horse’s ears that just feels right. Some folks may say yuck to the smell of a stable but to me it’s a welcoming scent, so let’s go!

The wild horses of the Carmargue.

The wild horses of the Carmargue.

Wild Horses
I’ve only ever seen the Carmargue wild horses on public television but their ghostly beauty is enough for me to get off the couch and book a trip. One of the oldest breeds in the world, they’ve been around since 50,000 B.C.  Carmargue horses live around Saintes Maries de la Mer in southern France, within an area that runs from the Rhone River to the Mediterranean. These pale grey horses roam the marshland and salt marshes of the region and are protected by French law. Their allure draws visitors far and wide who come to paint, ride, photograph or just be near these sturdy ponies. A major tourist destination, the Carmargue Natural Park includes a UNESCO designated biosphere reserve, where each year hundreds of thousands of migrating birds rest for a layover. In addition to the wild horses, the bird wildlife, especially the pink flamingoes, is a major attraction for bird-watchers. Located near Arles, if you’ve got any time on the front or back end of your next stay in Paris, consider a side trip.

Pink flamingos in Carmargue Nature Park.

Pink flamingos in Carmargue Nature Park.

Dressage & Design
Who needs an excuse to visit Italy? The food alone is enough of a reason but when you add the opportunity to take dressage lessons in a place like Castello di Reschio, sign me up. Located in Umbria, this luxurious retreat blends modernity with classic old world aesthetic design that the Italians are oh so good at creating. If you’ve got a thing for design and architecture, these digs will have you over the moon. Depending on how many folks you want around you, the Reschio farmhouse accommodations sleep anywhere between 2 to 14 and will blow you away. Once you see them, it’s a pretty sure bet they’ll have to pry you out by your fingernails. The proximity to Tuscany and the chance to explore the towns that dot its map, or take cooking classes, is another draw. Budget wise, it’s not for the faint of wallet but if you want to learn to ride, or perfect your moves, and feel it’s time to treat yourself to an all around, out of this world experience, then this might be the place for you.

All the pretty horses at Castello di Reschio.

All the pretty horses at Castello di Reschio.

A different point of view at Panagea.

A different point of view at Panagea.

Rawhide
If that’s too rich for your blood and you like it closer to the bone, then Panagea Estancia might be more your speed. This working cattle ranch in the north of Uruguay attracts visitors looking for the real deal of what the life of a South American gaucho, or cowboy, is really like. The ranch doesn’t promote itself from a tourist perspective, but they do welcome travelers who like to rough it. In terms of accommodations, we’re talking bare bones here but if you want to ride, or learn how, brush up on your Spanish, and live life off the grid then this is the place to do it. For $60 a day, you’ll not only get horseback riding lessons but the room and board to go with it. A steal if you ask me.

Race ya!  (Photo credit: African Horseback Safaris)

Race ya! (Photo credit: African Horseback Safaris)

Perfect after a day in the saddle.

Saddle Up On Safari
The only thing better than being on safari would be horseback riding while on safari. If you’re an experienced rider, then African Horseback Safaris can deliver that magic. With their Macatoo Camp located on the western side of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, you’ll find yourself in a mecca for wildlife as you race through floodplains, canter along side giraffes or zebra, gaze up at elephants, or follow on the heels of buffalo and antelope. With 4 to 6 hours in the saddle, you’ve got to love it and being able to ride in such a pristine environment is a dream. If your travel buddy doesn’t want to live your fantasy, no problem. Non-riders can enjoy a safari experience by boat or game drive, and whether or not you’re in the saddle the sundowners that’ll greet you at the end of the day will quench your thirst. This outfit also offers Eco-Safaris that you can tag on to your trip. If you’re looking for the ultimate riding experience, this is it.

Flirting with a friend at Flag Is Up Farms.

Flirting with a friend at Flag Is Up Farms.

Join Up
If being on the back of a horse isn’t your thing, and you’re simply looking to get a better understanding of these creatures, consider a visit to Flag Is Up Farms. Owned and operated by Monty Roberts, best-selling author of The Man Who Listens to Horses, this farm offers courses on horse behavior, horsemanship, and how to communicate with these animals through the language of Equus. Roberts’ pioneered a non-violent approach to working with horses years ago, which he eventually coined Join-Up®. It’s a philosophy based on learning the  unspoken language of horses that creates a trust-based foundation in a cooperative environment. Through subtle body movements and gestures, students work individually with horses in a high-walled, round-pen and experience for themselves this silent method of communication. It was a pretty thrilling experience for this Brooklyn girl and drinking a few juicy glasses of local red wine at the end of each night was a pretty sweet treat. Flag is Up is nicely set amongst the rolling hills of Santa Ynez wine valley and while they don’t offer accommodations, there are a variety available in the nearby towns of Solvang and Buellton. With its emphasis on communication, the real value of Join-Up® is that it can be applied to any relationship and the course attracts people from all walks of life including CEOs, veterans suffering from PTSD, abused women, children, educators, and medical clinicians.  Even the Queen of England endorses Join-Up® and over the years of his providing services to Britain’s racing establishment, in 2011 Monty was made an honorary Member of the Royal Victorian Order.

A New Forest Cottage.

A New Forest Cottage.

Pony Up
Whether you want to ride or just be around horses, the inhabitants of the New Forest, in Hampshire, England, will intrigue you. Roaming freely through the land are the famous New Forest Ponies, a band of about 3,000 whose mere presence contributes to the country’s tourism. These pretty ponies have run wild in these woodlands for 2,000 years and are cared

New Forest Ponies.

New Forest Ponies.

for by New Forest Commoners (local land owners). Visitors come just to watch the ponies, attracted by their gentle nature and beauty, as well as the romance and history of these creatures. Whether you’re a novice or advanced rider, there are a handful of stables in the forest that will saddle you up for lessons, riding, or a leisurely trek. The opportunity to enjoy a car-free journey is another plus, as you can easily hop a train from London. Once there, renting a bike is one of the most popular choices for exploring the area. There’s also a coastline where you can enjoy a shoreline stroll or hop a small ferry to Hurst Castle & Lighthouse. Book a room in one of the New Forest Cottages, and you’ll really feel like you’re in an enchanted forest.

The Chinese believe that the Horse year represents freedom and that when it comes to travel the further away you go, the better.

It’s also believed that you have to act fast in a Horse Year.  So if you’ve got an itch to go somewhere, giddy up!

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What Do Wildlife and Travel Advisors Have In Common?

King of the Serengeti.

King of the Serengeti.

Tourism is the number one driver in the economy of many countries, especially in Africa. Millions of travelers visit countries on that continent each year to experience the one thing most people blow off as a dream—a safari. The jungle is teeming with all sorts of wildlife but most travelers go to see the Big Five—the Cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino. Few things compare to the thrill of seeing them up close and personal. It’s humbling. Sadly, over the past decade more and more of these animals are on the endangered species list because of the profit made from the illegal wildlife trade. Most notably, the elephant, the rhino, and the lion. Worldwide and local conservation organizations are doing their best to prevent their extinction but the future of these creatures doesn’t look good.

Young rhinos goofing around in South Africa.  (Photo by author.)

Young rhinos goofing around in South Africa. (Photo by author.)

One of the reasons is that the money poachers earn from slaughtering these animals provides a massive source of income. In turn, some of these profits are funneled to fund terrorist groups. It’s amazing what you’ll find when you follow the money, and you can learn more about this in Killing Lions, Buying Bombs.  I’m not certain of what the solution is to deter poaching, it’s multidimensional for sure but I do know that education plays a huge role.

Another is for the travel industry to recognize the direct threat it poses to its livelihood. Knowledge is power and travel advisors who stay informed and educated about conservation bring value to its efforts by being part of the conversation and raising awareness. Tourism generates billions of dollars to the industry each year from travelers who set their sights set on a safari. What would be the draw if these animals didn’t exist? Travel advisors matter. Every voice and advocate who partners with conservation efforts, on any level, matters.

Chillin' at Chobe in Botswana.  (Photo by author.)

Chillin’ at Chobe in Botswana. (Photo by author.)

On the flip side, the communities within these countries need to be educated about what the loss of tourist dollars would mean to their economy and livelihood. The money generated by tourism in these countries not only pays the people directly connected to the travel industry, but indirectly as well. If managed right, this money goes back into the infrastructure, schools, healthcare, and the protection of wildlife and its natural habitat.

The rising extinction of these animals is alarming, but the article Through The Eyes Of The Maasai is inspiring. For starters, it made me want to book a flight to Kenya. But what really got my attention is how the Maasai, a semi-nomadic people, through education and collaboration with local and international communities realize that to keep their culture they have to shift their way of thinking and living. The Maasai occupy large tracks of land near game parks in Kenya and in northern Tanzania, live under a communal land management and use seasonal rotation to manage their livestock. The Masai Mara National Reserve is a huge draw for tourists who visit to experience the bonanza of wildlife, especially the wildebeest migration and to see the big cats. The camps that offer accommodation, some on Maasai land, to these visitors benefit tremendously. For tourists, the value of the trip is usually immeasurable.

Dmitri Markine.com http://www.dmitrimarkine.co...

Masai Dance, Maasai Mara Reserve,Kenya. The higher you jump the more women you can marry.(Photo credit: Dmitri Markine Photography)

Whatever side of the tourism road you’re on, education is key to preserving not just the wildlife but the habitat and way of life within the countries most folks regard as “bucket list” destinations.

Everything—from the lion to the livestock herder—is connected.